Photos by David Harris
Neil Finn’s recruitment has been a masterstroke.
Neil Finn stepped to the microphone, acoustic guitar in hand and began strumming the opening chords of ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’. Though I have seen him do exactly that many times and in various bands before, what struck me at this moment, illuminated by the glow of thousands of phones being swayed above heads throughout the packed stadium, was how unexpectedly fitting this all was. Truth be told, it was actually when Stevie Nicks appeared from the darkness, all flowing layers of dark lace and platform heels, looking exactly like herself, to sing the third verse and harmonise the final chorus that it really hit me. What if Neil Finn had always been in this band? In a strictly musical way, it suddenly made so much sense.
Finn’s addition to Fleetwood Mac made headlines and raised eyebrows worldwide when it was announced last year that both he and The Heartbreaker’s guitarist Mike Campbell would be replacing an ousted Lindsey Buckingham, one of the central singers and songwriters from the band’s commercial high point of the mid-‘70s. For any other group this would have been a death knell, but even a cursory examination of the highly unusual, zigzagging history of Fleetwood Mac and their 18 prior lineups, each built upon the foundation of the rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, would reveal that this is simply the next chapter.
As soon as Fleetwood’s kick drum counted in the first song and Finn bounded to the microphone, all fears were allayed. What we were watching was so obviously a band in control of their present and comfortable with their past, ‘The Chain’ was ferociously visceral and sonically huge.
The three-part vocal harmonies are an important part of the Rumours-era sound and importantly Finn sounded right at home sandwiched between the distinctive voices of Nicks and Christine McVie. To give the new guy the lead vocal on the first song in the set also seemed to be a very purposeful statement.
I have never seen Fleetwood Mac before but I would hazard a guess that the obvious delight and determination that was evident from all on stage was resulting in a more energised performance than can reasonably be expected from a group founded in 1967.
Rounded out by an additional guitarist, keys player, percussionist and two backing vocalists, everything sounded suitably large without ever getting messy and with some notable exceptions, the arrangements stayed more or less true to the original recordings.
Ever since integrating the existing duo of Buckingham & Nicks in 1975, Fleetwood Mac has been a multi-headed pop behemoth, with three separate lead singers and songwriters, each with distinctive yet complementary styles, a pop-rock precursor to the Wu-Tang if you will. Armed with such a formidable catalogue, the setlist was an intimidating parade of hits, the first five songs of which alone — ‘The Chain’, ‘Little Lies’, ‘Dreams’, ‘Second Hand News’, ‘Say You Love Me’ — would have been more than enough to sustain a career for most of their contemporaries.
As part of the current world tour, the first with the new lineup, Nicks explained that the band have taken the opportunity to evaluate their extensive back catalogue and revisit material from the pre-‘75 lineup. These diversions into the past resulted in some of the night’s most interesting left turns, particularly thanks to some brand new interpretations of material from the 1960s Peter Green-led era. ‘Black Magic Woman’ (1968) had its gender perspectives swapped with Nicks taking the lead vocal, while Finn clearly revelled in putting his own tender spin on 1969’s ‘Man of the World’. Campbell, an eternal show pony on stage, fronted an amped-up take on ‘Oh Well’ (1969), which proved to be as much of a showcase for the rhythm section as guitar, with Fleetwood and John McVie proving their dexterity and dynamism.
Not in any danger of being shown up, Nicks has arguably always been the band’s biggest star for a reason. Following the reverential treatment given to ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, including a speech telling Finn that “songs like that only come along once in a lifetime”, to which he replied “you’ve got several once in a lifetime songs”, she proved it with a flawless rendition of ‘Landslide’. Delivered as a companion to the Crowded House hit, Finn and Nicks proved themselves a surprisingly natural and beautifully complementary duo.
Christine McVie has probably the least distinctive voice in the band, still, and unfortunately she was a little low in the mix, but her songs have some of the biggest choruses, including a triumphantly frenzied rendition of ‘Don’t Stop’ that closed the show. Everyone sang, Nicks danced like her shoes were on fire, Fleetwood pulled bug-eyed grimaces and Finn grinned like the kid who got all the surprise birthday presents.
Rest assured Fleetwood Mac are not in danger of tarnishing their legacy, they are owning it, letting it breathe and revelling in watching it grow.